(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) today led an effort on the floor of the U.S. Senate to reaffirm the Senate’s commitment to provide $1.5 billion in emergency spending to fill a shortfall in the VA’s 2005 budget. The amendment passed 95-0.
Murray introduced the amendment to the Homeland Security Appropriations bill to clarify the Senate’s position following comments by Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) that the Senate would be willing to accept a lower funding number passed by the House of Representatives. Murray’s amendment to the Homeland Security bill is identical to the amendment she successfully attached to the Interior Appropriations bill at the end of June by a vote of 96-0
“Two weeks ago the Senate came together, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans, to do right by our nation’s veterans,” Senator Murray said. “The Senate agreed that our veterans need $1.5 billion and I offered my amendment today to make sure there is no backtracking and that our veterans get the help they need and deserve. This is a basic American issue that we all can and must support.”
Shortly following a unanimous vote on Murray’s amendment on June 29th to provide $1.5 billion in emergency spending for the VA, Majority Leader Frist stood on the Senate floor and said that the Senate should yield to the House of Representative’s lower figure of $975 million.
The lower House number would uphold the current hiring freeze at the VA and no new specialists would be hired to help veterans dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other pressing health care needs. Yielding to the House number would also mean continuing to delay critically needed new clinics around the country – such as those planned for communities in Bellingham and Wenatchee, WA.
“If we backtrack – if we walk away from the $1.5 billion we promised for this year, veterans will be hurt,” Murray said. “Now that the Senate is on the record for a second time unanimously supporting this funding, it is time to move forward as quickly as possible to get these dollars to the VA and get our veterans the care they need and deserve.”
The full text of Senator Murray’s remarks on the floor today follows:
We All Supported $1.5 Billion for Veterans
Two weeks ago the Senate came together – not as Republicans and Democrats, but as Americans – to do what is right for our nation’s veterans.
By a vote of 96-to-nothing, we agreed to increase veterans’ funding by $1.5 billion. We agreed to fill the appalling shortfall that the VA faces this year. It was a clear message that we will be there for the people who have served our country.
But Then the Majority Leader Suggested Yielding to Less Support
But shortly following that unanimous vote, the Majority Leader stood on the Senate floor and said that we should yield to the House of Representative’s lower figure of $975 million. That would go against what the full Senate had just agreed to.
The Appropriations Committee Supported $1.5 Billion
That proposal by the Majority Leader also went against what the Senate Appropriations Committee had agreed to earlier that same day. On a bipartisan and unanimous basis, the Appropriations committee's members reaffirmed that the Senate should approve the full $1.5 billion in immediate funding for the VA.
So the Appropriations Committee and the full Senate unanimously agreed that America's veterans deserve the full $1.5 billion for this fiscal year. Then there was an attempt to accept a lower number.
We need to make sure there is no backtracking and that veterans don't get shortchanged in the end.
This Amendment Reaffirms Our Commitment at $1.5 billion for FY05
So, to make it clear to our nation’s veterans and to the American public, I am here on the Floor offering an amendment that clears up this confusion. It says that the Senate stands firmly behind our unanimous vote of $1.5 billion in emergency spending for veterans’ healthcare.
If We Backtrack – Veterans Will Be Hurt
If we backtrack – if we walk away from the $1.5 billion we promised for this year -- veterans will be hurt.
Hiring Freeze Will Remain
If we yield to House's $975 million, the VA hiring freeze will remain in place. That means no new mental health specialists will be hired to help veterans who are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
No New Clinics
If we yield to $975 million, the VA will not build any of the new clinics our veterans have been promised. That means more inconvenience and less access to care for the people who have sacrificed for our country.
Veterans Need Help Now
This is a critical priority. We have a huge problem right now in Fiscal Year 2005. Secretary Nicholson has made it clear that the VA is at least $1 billion short this year, but we know the problem goes much deeper. Veterans are having to wait 3 years for surgery.
Recruitment is Slipping – We Need to Send a Strong Signal of Support
This morning there is an Associated Press report that says the Army National Guard is having trouble recruiting the soldiers it needs.
The Army National Guard "missed its recruiting goal for at least the ninth straight month in June and is nearly 19,000 soldiers below its authorized strength, military officials said Monday."
The article says the Army Guard "is more than 10,000 soldiers behind its year-to-date goal of almost 45,000 recruits, and has missed its recruiting target during at least 17 of the last 18 months."
Mr. President, many factors affect recruiting – how we care for our veterans is one of them. As George Washington said, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional as to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their country."
That was George Washington in 1789, and it's still true today. We need to show today's veterans – and those who are considering military service today that we will be there for them.
If the Senate retreats from what we agreed to two weeks ago, it will tell potential recruits that the VA will have a hiring freeze, and that the VA won't open any new clinics. That's the wrong message to send.
This Amendment Ensures There is No Backtracking
The Senate agreed that our veterans need $1.5 billion, and I'm offering this amendment to make sure there is no backtracking and that our veterans get the help they need and deserve. This is a basic American issue that we all can and must support.
Your Vote Sends a Message
If you vote for this amendment, you're giving the VA money to lift the hiring freeze, hire the medical staff it needs, and open new clinics. You're telling today's soldiers and tomorrow's recruits that we will be there for them.
But if you vote against this amendment, you are voting to keep your local VA hospital overwhelmed and understaffed. You're telling veterans in your state that they won't get the new clinics they were promised.
Your vote will send a strong message to today's veterans and tomorrow's recruits. Let's make sure we show them that we will be there for them – as they have been there for us.